The Red Line

The Red Line

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

I bravely and joyfully walked up to my unknown neighbor’s walkway and stood ready to ring the doorbell. The feeling was a familiar one. I felt as if I was fifteen-years old again, carrying the tattered Romans Road prayer card in my hand, confidently uncertain I had the right words to lead anyone to the One who could save their soul from eternal damnation. Now much older and more confident, I held another tattered book in my hand and looked out over the beautiful faces of my group. It wasn’t the First Baptist Youth Group Evangelism Team that stood in front of me. It was twenty-five, enthusiastic, joyful church members holding matching tattered books-caroling books ready for adventure. They were my fellow companions on an adventure of song through the church neighborhood. Our mission, to spread Christmas cheer and joy to our neighbors.

Up until today, my caroling experience was limited to junior high choirs and visitations to nursing homes. I had never been caroling door to door before. We only had a loose plan. Walk, sing, and ring a doorbell here and there. It seemed easy enough and I was fairly confident it would be great fun. I was not prepared for what God had prepared for this day.

At each house, we sang a few songs, presented a kid-made Christmas card, and asked if there was anything we could pray for with them. No questions about knowing where they were going when they died, no judgments, and certainly no expectations. To our surprise, many people shared their stories of hurt, pain, and loneliness and so many people accepted the invitation for prayer. Humbly we prayed, lovingly we hugged, and joyfully we sang and smiled.

The world needs more HOPE, LOVE, and JOY.

I came back home on a Holy-Spirit high! I was so grateful and so humbled that God entrusted us with this type of “work.” In between my thinking and praising, I started to visualize a red line, like a ribbon, that stretched back to my childhood, trailing through present time, and continuing on through my unknown future.

Following the red ribbon back in time, I came to many different situations, opportunities, and experiences which seemed normal at the time. Everyday living, everyday interactions, everyday moments now seemed sacred and holy. Some of those encounters with people, places, and experiences specifically prepared me for the work God has for me to do now AND the work He has for me to do in the future.

My family, the church I grew up in, the correspondence Bible classes at age eight, prayer meetings that lasted long into the night, Christian friends/non-Christian friends, Southern Baptist summer camp, street evangelism with my youth group, college, separation from the Lord, teaching, and marrying my then teacher-now pastor husband. Some of these moments were fun, great, and exciting. Some of these moments were trying, painful, and paralyzing. But each of these moments stand as a marker, an ebenezer, of God’s help and faithfulness on the red line of my life. 

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. 

Jeremiah 29:12-14

I have no idea what’s in store for me next but God does. Some days, I am guilty of spending enormous, wasteful amounts of time feeling anxious, worried, and fearful about what the future will hold. I dwell on the next big thing the Lord is calling me to do, all the while almost missing out on what He has planned for me to do right at that moment. I can drive myself loopy with all that thinking. And while, it is good to think about future plans, dream, and prepare; it is wrong to be so caught up with worry and fear that you cannot seek the Lord with your whole heart.

We have a short time left in this year. This season comes so many emotions. If you are dealing with an anxious, hurting, fearful heart, I encourage you to ask God to replace the worry, fear, and weariness with peace, hope, love, and joy. If it is difficult to do, try following your red ribbon back in time, searching for markers of God’s faithfulness. You might be surprised what you find. Some markers will be easy to locate, wrapped in lots of red ribbon and right out in the open; but others might be hidden, tied with a simple bow waiting to be pulled out and discovered. Each marker is a gift from our Lord and our hope and assurance that our future rests in Him.

Live out each day for what it is. Embrace the people and interactions that come into your path. We may never know how God will use them in our future or in the future of another person. Lastly, enjoy! Enjoy this season for the hope that it brings and the peace that is offered. Embrace it all with the Lord’s help.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Romans 8:28  


Timeless Comforts

timeless comforts

She rummaged through her wallet searching for something specific. Her soft, aged, wrinkled hands worked tediously through each pocket and in and out of every fold. She knew that it was there but where it was she was not certain. The rest of us looked on in great anticipation as to what object would be pulled from its hiding place. With a smile and a sigh, she pulled out what seemed to be a photograph. She motioned me over and gently placed it in my hand.  I looked down to see a handsome man dressed in 70’s fashion. His brown eyes twinkled. His smile was warm and welcoming. Pointing to the picture, she told me it was her son.  I turned over the picture to find words scribbled on the back- “Husband. (man’s name.) Married 67 years. Three children (children’s names.)”  The program director broke the silence with a little light-hearted humor and reminded the aging woman that the picture was not of her son but of her husband. A funny statement was made and everyone laughed.

There was great care and respect in the interaction between the director and the woman. A familiarity and trust in the way they looked at each other and spoke. The elderly woman smiled warmly at me and gave me a silent nod.  I handed her back her treasured photograph and smiled back with a lump in my throat. Sixty-seven years with a man, three children later, and a whole life lived and the details were blurred and hard to recall.

old photos

I wasn’t supposed to be there. Through a series of unplanned, God-orchestrated events, I was found myself filling in for my pastor husband at our church’s monthly non-denominational church service that we facilitate for the residents of the dementia and memory care home in our local community.  I had never been to the service before and my husband had given me a 5 minute orientation about how to get there, what to do when I got there, and then told me to come up with some short message to share. One other church member, Evie, would be leading the singing. She had never been there before either.

We were led through a maze of hallways and locked doors, and invited to enter a bright, warm room. There were about ten comfortable chairs placed alongside the walls. Four residents silently occupied four of them. One other resident, a friendly, animated man was seated in a wheel chair near the door. Fall decorations were hung from the ceiling and wooden crafts the residents had made were displayed along the walls. A big, bright window and large ,framed, New England foliage pictures added light and cheer to the small room.

Fall Leaves

A few introductions were made and large-print hymnals were passed around the room.  Evie announced the page number of the first hymn and started us through the first verse.  In between the familiar words and phrases, I glanced over at the residents singing. Their mouths moved at different times. Wrong words and phrases escaped their lips. With the exception of Evie’s voice, each song sounded off-key, off pitch, off melody, and sung with poor rhythm. BUT each song was sung with great enthusiasm and joy. The residents sang from their hearts with confidence and peace.

With great reverence they listened to and joined me as we recited Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer. We talked about Jesus and the greatest commandment to love God and love others. There seemed to be a trust and familiarity with the songs and the passages for the residents. It was a sacred place and moment. There was unity as we were connected together to a past of a rich tradition of faith held by all those who have gone before us.

With their worlds becoming blurry and details slipping away daily, these timeless truths woven beautifully into hymns and passages, have been locked and stored in the hearts and souls to serve as anchors of hope and comfort.

When everything is gone and has been stripped away, the thing that truly matters remains… love and Jesus. 

I have been thinking a lot about this and what is going to matter when I get to the end of my earthly journey. What legacy will I leave? The hours spent worrying about things out of my control. Petty arguments and disagreement with others. Guilt, shame, bad decisions, and fretting over dumb stuff.  Things that seem so important now, when they are stripped away what will remain? Certainly, not earthly comforts or physical strength.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Matthew 24:35

My visit with these sweet, elderly people did more for me than I could ever do for them. Before I left, I took each one of their velvety smooth, wrinkled hands in mine and I looked them in their eyes as if I could see deep into their souls. I hoped with every part of me that they felt loved and filled with comfort and peace.  In the short time I spent with them they helped me put things in perspective. They set me on a path to continue to think about what is important in my life and how I am spending this precious time I have on Earth. But most importantly, they were a testimony to me of the kind of things I should be setting my eyes on and storing in my heart and soul for a future that one day will come.

It is Well With My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, (it is well), with my soul, (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.


Unexpected Treasure

Treasure

“MOMMMM, LOOK!!!”  My daughter was standing knee deep in foamy, ocean surf holding up something small, white, and round. I moved closer to get a better look. She could barely contain her excitement. In the palm of her hand was a perfect, whole sand dollar!

“How did you find THAT?” I stared in complete disbelief. We were surrounded by the rhythm of the ocean. Waves crashed at our legs.  Rocks, pieces of shells tumbled in and out, over and around our feet by the undertow.  Our legs were encompassed by a bubbling blanket of foam making it almost impossible to see the ocean floor.  Enthusiastically, my daughter explained that she had caught a glimpse of something being swayed back and forth by the waves. Even though the thick foam made it really hard to see, she had tried to keep her eye on it. A few times, she had tried to grab it but it was pulled away from her. One last time, she reached down and pulled out what she thought was a random shell, but to her surprise it was a sand dollar. A perfect, whole sand dollar!

Treasure

After a minute or so of joyful acknowledgement, the treasure was given to me for safe keeping.  My excited daughter bounced away to resume jumping through the waves with her sister.  I tuned in to the peaceful rhythm of the waves.  Shifting my gaze downwards, I caught a glimpse of something in the water. In and out it went, tumbling through the waves. I did my best to keep my eye on it but a blanket of foam kept interrupting my view. A few times, I tried to reach for it, coming up with only a rock or a handful of sand. Still, there was something there.  I reached down again.  This time my hand locked on to something small and round. With excited anticipation, I slowly opened my hand to what I thought it held. There in the palm of MY hand, sat another perfect, whole sand dollar!  Holding MY treasure, I yelled over to my daughter, “LOOK!!! LOOK!!!I found one, I found one too!!!”

Treasure in Dollars

As fast as she could, with equal excitement for my treasure, my daughter pushed through the surf over to me.  I am not sure of the exact words that we spoke as we held our matching treasures. But within that conversation there was a moment when our excited, brown eyes locked and the world around us disappeared. And I knew, that moment and those two perfect, whole sand dollars were worth more than any treasure valued in dollar amounts. No price could be put on this moment!  I had done nothing to earn this but only had approached the day with hopeful, open eyes and faith that there was something great was to be found. These unexpected treasures were true, free gifts from God!

DSC_0045

Dear MOPS Leader,

I want you to know that I have been thinking of you and praying for you. I hope that your eyes are wide open with excitement and the anticipation of all the treasure God has prepared for you to find at MOPS this year. Like the rhythm of waves, I pray that you will find the right rhythm, between rest and work, for you and your group.  Some treasure will be right out in the open to see and some will take focus and perseverance to uncover.  Your treasure may come in many forms- MOPPETS workers, a well-needed hug, an old hobby or interest revitalized, a new mom that comes to your group broken and weary but leaves your meetings patched with love and with a renewed fierce strength to continue on her course.  I hope that you will lean into each other and show shared excitement for what each mom, woman, and leader in your group finds along the way.  And I hope that you will have faith and leave room for God to work in all the unknowns. Let him cover you and your group with a blanket of love and strength.  Through that blanket of love and strength, ask God to show you the glimpses of his good gifts. Keep your eyes focused on Him and His work, and be prepared to fiercely uncover and pull up treasure from all around you.

Love, Your Ministry Coach

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”